Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
As frustrated smokers struggle to strike a balance between observing the recent ban on smoking in public spaces with satisfying their nicotine urge, businessman Marlon Thompson is providing an alternative he says offers just as much satisfaction with less of a health risk.
Electronic cigarettes, long popular in the United States, Europe and other countries, have become a business opportunity for Thompson, who admits the idea came out of the public ban on smoking.
Thompson, who spends some of his time in the United States, offers a range of electronic cigarettes he advertises as the 'safest way to smoke' with no tar, no charcoal, no ash, no mess, no lighter needed.
In the confusion that immediately followed Government's announcement of a nationwide ban on cigarette smoking in public spaces, including bus stops and sporting venues, with fines well in excess of charges for use of the illegal marijuana, many smokers were left frustrated and confused.
As he listened to friends voice their discontent, Thompson raised the use of electronic cigarettes as an option. Most had no idea about what he was speaking. So, on his next trip to the States, the enterprising young man invested in some of the smokeless smokes.
Back in Jamaica, he initially gave out the e-cigarettes designed to mimic traditional smoking implements such as cigarettes or cigars in their use and appearance.
They utilise a heating element that vaporises a liquid solution. Some release nicotine, while others release flavoured vapour. They were an instant hit, and Thompson went on to invest in a number of products which are available in a range of flavours such as apple, strawberry, mango, coffee, and grape. In addition, they were available in 'no-nicotine' and '0.6% nicotine'.
With growing demand, Thompson now has the products displayed in a number of service stations and other outlets, but confusion over whether the e-cigarettes are real cigarettes, and whether the haze emitted constitutes a breach of the ban, has stymied the growth of his fledgling business.
"It is really a vapour, and depending on the flavour you will have a pleasant smell but nothing that would cause discomfort to anyone nearby. It's called vaping because there is really no smoke in the traditional sense. However, many club owners who love the product are afraid to stock it because they are not sure if they would be breaking the law," he shared with The Sunday Gleaner.
However, the satisfaction from smoking the flavoured Fluid E-Hookah is very real with a 'No Nicotine' 500-puff stick - the equivalent of two 20 packs of cigarettes retailing for between $1,200 and $1,500.
Also very popular is the Atmos Menthol, a 1.6 per cent nicotine 250-puff stick equivalent to 20 packs of cigarettes which compares to Matterhorn, while the Atmos Tobacco has been compared to the Craven A, both retailing for between $900 and $1,000. Then there is the E-Cigar - at 18 milligrammes of nicotine and 1,800 puffs, this big boy sells for between $2,500 and $3,000.
Each e-cigarette is a singular electronic 'stick' which emits a light when it is squeezed, indicating that it is lit, with the vapour exhaled by the smoker very much like the smoke from a conventional cigarette. Even veteran smokers have a lot to learn about this take on an old habit, according to Thompson.
He explained that some have inadvertently thrown away their money after the first 'smoke', not realising that there are still lots of 'cigarettes' left in a single stick.
Upon choosing to stop smoking, you simple return the e-cigarette to your pocket or elsewhere until ready to smoke again, with no risk of burning, making it much safer than traditional methods of smoking. Thompson also claims that while the satisfaction is very real, the health risks are much lower than conventional smoking.
Checks on the Internet suggest that he could be right, with one website suggesting that, while the benefits and risks of electronic use are uncertain, they are likely safer than smoking tobacco.
Laws about their use and sale vary widely, as they continue to be the subject of pending legislation and ongoing debate around the world.